Sunday, July 29, 2018

This Is The Happiest Day Of My Life

Charging at 15.70 volts!!!  YIKES!
Coming out of a deep sleep in the cool morning with the boat gently rocking beneath our bed... each of us knew that the other was awake, yet neither of us spoke.  It was that moment when you lie there remembering the events of the previous day and the tone has yet to be set for the day ahead.  Bruce was the first to break the silence:  This is the happiest day of my life.  

Tone set!!

We began cruising with a mismatched trio of size 4D batteries and seemed to do OK.  We noticed that we were having to run our generator more and more by about St. Martin, so we purchased a new set of off-brand 4Ds after being convinced by the salesman at the chandlery that the cruising lifestyle is just brutal on batteries - so why spend the money on the high priced brands when you were still going to have to change them out every couple of years give-or-take.  These batteries cost less than 1/3 the price of the Lifelines Bruce wanted, and none were available.  We figured it was worth a try...

By the time we reached St. Lucia, we were forced to bite the bullet and install the new generator just so Bruce didn't have to spend his entire life hauling the portable Yamaha generator in and out to charge us up - which was becoming more and more often and lengthy once again...  With the new generator things were good again for a while.  At least we only had to push a button to charge the house back up, and we could do it regardless of weather conditions.  But soon we realized that our batteries just weren't holding a charge and would need replaced again!!!  We had gambled and we had lost.

Approaching Grenada, we ordered a trio of the expensive Lifeline 4Ds and installed them while we were in Carriacou.  They were wonderful.  The length of charging time was reduced and the charge levels were healthy once again.  We could make it through the night without Bruce having to turn off the refrigeration at 2am.  We didn't have to run the generator before 5am.  Our travails were over!

Until they weren't.  It happened so gradually we hardly noticed.  We began having to run the generator more often and for longer periods of time.  The battery levels were down to 12.5 as soon as the solar panels quit producing and even after running the generator for two hours before going to bed, we never saw more than 12.5... and by morning it was down to 12.2.  WTF???  We bought the expensive kind!  Why was this happening to us?

We turned to the internet for answers and found more conflicting information than solutions.  Most people warn against "Equalizing" AGM batteries.  But when we dug deeper we found that was not true exactly.  While the "off brand" or cheaper AGM batteries could not withstand the high voltage required to convert the sulphate back to lead acid, the Lifeline brand endorsed the procedure - although they called it "Conditioning" instead of Equalizing.

I narrowed my search but couldn't find precise instructions or advice anywhere... not on the Lifeline Website or in their pdf owner's manual...  While conditioning was mentioned and endorsed, there were no instructions for performing the procedure.  I found a couple of other sources of information here and there... but nothing definitive!  Why is this information not readily available???

Our frustration grew when I submitted a request for information to the Lifeline company and finally got a response that was, again, vague.


I apologize for the delay as I have been away on business for quite some time. I must have missed this somehow. Please see below. This should help get you started and then if you have questions I am happy to help

Every battery manufacture requires charging back to 100% every time to avoid damage. Even though you can compare a battery to a fuel tank for energy there are some adverse side effects that start happening. I know and understand why you do not want to fully recharge every time. It takes time to run the generator that long every day. If you only recharge back to 85% then you are down 15%. The problem is that top 15% will start sulfating. Then what will happen is next week you will only be able to get them back to 84%, then 83% then 82% etc…. When you have a lead acid battery (Wet, AGM or GEL) every time you discharge the plates change to lead sulfate. When you recharge it converts back to lead acid. If you do not convert the lead sulfate back to lead acid the sulfate will start to crystallize. It then becomes hard to remove and it starts growing blocking your capacity. Equalizing at a high voltage removes this sulfate and converts it back to lead acid. No matter what battery you choose you have two options

  1. Recharge back to 100% every time
  2. Recharge back to 85% every day and equalize at 15.5 volts for 8 hours once a month while cruising. John Harries from Morgans cloud was only getting 18 months out of his battery bank. He was frustrated. I worked with him for months and finally convinced him that he needed to put our batteries back in and follow option 2 above. He got 6 years out of his new batteries and we just replaced them for him. He is a believer now but the reality is these are the only two options you have otherwise you will be replacing batteries every 18-30 months. Wet Cells sulfate much quicker and also keep in mind that GEL batteries cannot be equalized and many overseas manufacturers of AGM’s cannot be equalized either. They do not build their batteries robust enough to handle high voltage charging. Switching batteries will not mend the situation unfortunately. We have to follow the rules of chemistry and keep the batteries healthy by using one of these two options.

I wish there was a better solution for cruisers but these are the only options for now.

Every battery manufacture requires charging back to 100% every time to avoid damage. Even though you can compare a battery to a fuel tank for energy there are some adverse side effects that start happening. I know and understand why you do not want to fully recharge every time. It takes time to run the generator that long every day. If you only recharge back to 85% then you are down 15%. The problem is that top 15% will start sulfating. Then what will happen is next week you will only be able to get them back to 84%, then 83% then 82% etc…. When you have a lead acid battery (Wet, AGM or GEL) every time you discharge the plates change to lead sulfate. When you recharge it converts back to lead acid. If you do not convert the lead sulfate back to lead acid the sulfate will start to crystallize. It then becomes hard to remove and it starts growing blocking your capacity.

Some cruisers have added wind generators and/or solar panels to supply the remaining 15% but you need a pretty good size solar installation to accomplish this. Wind seems to be a great option for cruisers while under sail to help offset the generator run time but again it comes with a cost. Usually lower cruising speed.

I am happy to help you and work with you in the future but the guidelines above must be followed no matter what battery you choose and if you do choose a different battery, given your application, make sure you can equalize the battery you choose, otherwise you will see a very short life.

Justin Godber
Lifeline Batteries
292 E. Arrow Hwy
San Dimas, CA 91773

By this time we had already decided to try the process, come what may.  Our batteries were less than a year old and weren't achieving more than 12.5 volts, and they weren't getting better, only worse from here.  I fired off a barrage of questions to try to narrow the process down but never got a response...  I guess he got scared and clammed up  thinking he was obviously dealing with a kook!  

Long story short, the first try failed. A friend (thanks Ron) suggested that the battery type was the culprit, so I called Xantrex and finally got some answers.  Indeed, the battery type was the problem.  Xantrex has a manual function for "equalizing" batteries, but the settings are dependent upon the chosen battery type.  AGMs don't ALL withstand this process, so the Xantrex must be fooled into giving the higher voltages by changing to the flooded (or wet) cell setting.  Second day we tried it again... and Eureka it worked!

I've complained bitterly that there are no instructions for doing this so I'm going to give them to you.  Do not take my word for it.  Do your homework.  Make your own decision.  This is what worked for us with the Xantrex Freedom 20 charger/inverter and 3 4D Lifeline AGM batteries.  ANY OTHER COMBINATION OF EQUIPMENT COULD HAVE DIFFERENT RESULTS!!! 

1.  Charge the batteries up fully until they reach float stage. (We used our house 5.5kw generator)
2.  Turn off all the switches on the main panel (This disconnects all electrical devices from the bank.  You can consult the manufacturer's specifications to see if certain devices are able to withstand voltages of 16.5 or more, but we didn't want to take the chance of damaging anything, so we just disconnected it all.  This means the refrigeration, the bilge pumps, the fans, water pressure, lighting stove... everything was off for 8 hours.  Prepare for this by having food cooked and water stored.)
3.  Change the battery type from AGM to Wet Cell on the Xantrex remote panel. (You can only run the equalization function if you have the remote panel)
4.  Open panels to allow adequate air flow to the batteries.  (The process creates heat and since you can't use the blower, you need to make sure there is good ventilation around the battery compartment.)
5.  Switch the house from "ship power" to "shore power" and start the Yamaha portable generator and confirm adequate voltage input.
6.  Engage the Equalization function:  Enter Setup Mode>hold Setup and Charge until the Battery State LEDs start blinking. (Make sure you maintain the power source, you might have to add gas to the generator if using a portable. If the power is interrupted, you'll have to begin again. The process will take 6 to 8 hours.  You should monitor battery temperatures and voltage.  Consult your manufacturer's literature to determine max voltage and temperatures allowed.  If the voltage exceeds the max allowed or the batteries reach maximum allowable temperatures, stop the process immediately by pressing the "charge" button on your panel)
7.  The Xantrex will resume normal charging when the process is complete.  Ours took just over 7 hours.  The battery state LEDs should stop at "full".  Turn off the generator.
8.  Change the battery type selection back to AGM.  You're done!

Notes:  This can be done optimally at a dock with good shore power.  We left our solar panels engaged through our BLUE SKY controller.  During the process, they stopped inputting power and went to float. The charge voltage during this process for us was between 15.5 and 16.1.  The battery temperatures were between 85° and 96°.  We never reached anything close to maximum allowable temperature.  Depending upon the state of your batteries, you might have to perform this process more than once.  Also, see owner's manual for Deep Discharge Recovery.

Why has it taken us this long to get to where we are right now?  Looking back over our cruising career, we realized that in the beginning we were at a dock.  We had constant shore power hooked up which allowed us to achieve 100% battery charge.  

When we left to cruise, we were motoring in the ICW.  This also allowed us to charge our batteries up to 100% over long hours.  

When we reached Puerto Rico, again we were at a dock... It wasn't until we reached St. Martin and spent long weeks at anchor without travelling under power that we began to notice the deterioration of our battery charge levels.  

Since then we have had starts and stops, but now that we've been in Grenada and anchored out for months... it all came to a head.  

As I write this, we are charging the batteries.  They made it through the night and with a higher charge level this morning than we've seen in months.  They are accepting more amps and thus charging more efficiently than we've seen in months.  Life is GOOD!  Going forward we know what to do.  We will add "battery conditioning" to our monthly maintenance list and hopefully, add years to our Lifeline batteries!

I hope this sheds light on the subject for someone else and can make THIS the happiest day of your life TOO!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Welcome To My Island

The Saharan Dust Haze has returned!
Nine months.  I can't believe we've been here in Grenada for almost NINE MONTHS!  And in that time, we have made ourselves very much at home.  We arrived when most Cruisers were just beginning to migrate away for the season, way back at the first of November.  We remained here through the slow season, and are still here as the Cruiser migration begins to arrive back in Grenada for another Hurricane season.  And with the migration comes new friends as well as old ones!

I've watched with excitement as friends from Texas got closer and closer.  Ken and Carrie from Griffin were our dock mates back in Port Aransas.  As we welcomed them and others to the island, I've been planning all the things I wanted to show them, as well as some new spots for Bruce and I!

Added Bonus:  A stop to see the Mona Monkeys!
There are many choices of drivers to take us around the island, but I enjoy the company of our friend Chico!  I arranged for him to pick us, and ten of our closest NEW friends, up mid morning and whisk us all off for a fun day of adventuring on this beautiful island!  Our destination:  Claboney Sulphur Springs!  I felt giddy with excitement and just couldn't wait for everyone to see the little treasures we've found here - and there is just SO MUCH to love!

Several other popular attractions punctuate the route to the springs.  Chico made sure we enjoyed them all!  He knows the secret spot to find the Mona Monkeys and we all got to try our luck with a banana today!

A shy guy watches from the trees.
Ron (Follow Me) taking his chances with this big boy!
Carrie laughs as the monkey takes the banana!
And away he goes!
The obligatory Monkey-Selfie
Mindy (Follow Me) having some Me-Time with a Mona Monkey
He walked right over my head!
Gimme that banana!

We had a blast holding and feeding the Mona Monkeys!  Eventually we had our fill, and continued on the short distance to take a look at the beautiful mountain spring-fed Grand Etang Lake.  Chico told us that the lake is connected to the Kick 'em Jenny volcano and that when it rumbles, this lake will bubble!  No bubbles today!

But the fish kind of bubbled when bread crumbs were involved!

Next stop:  Claboney Springs!  We bounced along roads that got more and more remote.  It's a good thing we're not in charge because it became quite a challenge to get the loaded van up the slippery cement roads.  Several times we had to back up and get a running start... and STILL had to move the weight to the back of the bus to make it up the slope!  It was just a little bit scary!

Funny thing... evidently this was Chico's first time coming up here and he wasn't exactly sure where we were supposed to go.  He tried taking us all the way to the springs, but we ended up doing all that danger stuff for nothing.  We had actually gone too far and had to backtrack to the little shack where a guy was probably wondering where on earth we were going!

The real way to the springs... notice the sign!
We all loaded up our picnic gear and set off into the unknown.  The path was well worn, but a little slippery with mud that always seems present in the Rainforest.

We crossed a couple of little streams and climbed some embankments, but the going wasn't too tough and the forest was beautiful!

Gotta watch your step, no time to gaze up at the soaring treetops!

Almost there... really!

And we finally made it!  There's a clearing where we all found spots for our stuff and began shucking the clothing.  We were all a little warm from the physical exertion it took to get here, but the air was cool up in the mountains so most of us were game for the warm waters of these mineral rich springs. 

The mineral deposits made a natural non-skid coating on the rocks in the stream bed.

Our band of noisy Cruisers interrupted the solitude of these two young ladies.  I felt a little bad about it, but not enough to forego the pleasures of a warm dip!  We were counting on these waters taking ten years off our age!

Joey was the first one in!
I picked my way down into the warm waters.

I moved cautiously along the bottom, feeling my way with my feet.  The bottom was silty and the water quickly filled with murk, much of which was flakes of the yellow/orange mineral deposits that lined everything the water touched.

The water was bathtub-warm... very nice in the cool air.  We all just milled about, enjoying the lush garden that we are so fortunate to have at our disposal.  I am continually amazed that there are so many of these hidden treasures out here for us to explore... for FREE!
Little murky!
Mindy exploring the spring.
See the little cave?  That's where the spring is hiding!
I took Mindy's spot and moved toward the spring.  I wanted to see what was in there.  My curiosity was thwarted by the appearance of this millipede!  I don't care if it will hurt me or not!  I didn't want to find out!

Mindy flung it away and I was able to resume my exploration.  Thanks Mindy!

I moved closer to the small rivulet of water escaping from the tiny cave.  Bubbles tickled my body as they rose from the floor of the pool... the water made my skin feel almost like it was covered with some sort of water repellant as the bubbles clung and tickled me. 

I got close enough to peer inside the cave and suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe!  There were gasses escaping from the cave that almost choked me!  I backed away quickly to find breathable air again!  You're welcome!  Now nobody else has to do that!!!!  If I develop some sort of mysterious lung-funk, tell the doctor this is what happened!

Eventually we relinquished the pond back to the two young ladies who had tolerated our presence with grace.  We were warm and the cool air felt so good on our skin as we crept back out of the pool and began thinking of lunch!

A rickety bridge made of felled bamboo leads the way across the orange-bottomed stream

A hidden oasis?  YES!
But I wasn't done yet.  When we came in, I wondered if this was the right pool, or if there was another one further down the stream.  A makeshift bridge spanned the tiny yellow/orange stream bed that disappeared into the jungle.  I could see a clearing off in the near distance but couldn't see water.  One of the men volunteered to scout it out for us, and gave us the thumbs up!

We filed across the bridge and forged the muddy stream all the way to the next beautiful little pool paradise!

Ginger growing wild

The second pool was smaller and not quite as deep, but just as beautiful, maybe moreso!
You can see our camp back across the ravine.

I spotted the spring and MORE BUBBLES!

Just milling around in paradise
We're lounging beneath the shade of a giant tree fern!
One last look at our oasis and we went back to camp for some lunch
Our bridge doesn't look like much...

But it served its purpose!

Continuing on with our bamboo theme, some of the guys were busy at camp creating a table for our pot luck banquet!  The legs were a little rickety so they moved it to the ground and I used my grass matt as a table cloth.  We spread our dishes out and feasted like royalty here in this hidden little nook in the jungle!

While we feasted, so did the mosquitos unfortunately!  They never tell you about the bugs in those magazine articles!  Well, I'm telling you!  We were a buffet for the skinniest bunch of mosquitos I've ever seen.  I almost felt like just letting them have an arm because they were obviously starving! 

We ate. We drank. We were merry!  And then it was time to pack our stuff back out and continue on to our next destination!

La Sagesse Beach is another of those spots that not everyone knows about.  Chico brought us here on another excursion, but we didn't swim, and I have wanted to get back here ever since. 

We gathered our beach gear and followed the manicured pathway down to the lovely secluded beach!

We made our nest and headed for the water.  Remember we're no longer in the cool rainforest anymore and the days are becoming hotter here.  We were all feeling it and the water was perfect!

It was easy to get past the breaking surf where we could just float in the shallow swells

Not much time left as the sun begins to sink

C'mon Ken and Carrie!  The water is fine!
The waves carried us back to the sand

Now refreshed and revitalized once more, we did our own thing on the beach for a while.  For some that meant a romantic stroll up the deserted beach... for others, that meant a game of Bocce!

I've never played before but I'm game.  Evidently it takes a lot of deliberation from the looks of it... Maybe next time, there will be more time and I'll get to try my hand at it!

Ken and Carrie joined Bruce and I on the beach in the spectator's box, just watching and chatting, until a man and his wife came walking up the beach and recognized Ken.  They stopped and talked for a bit and the takeaway was that they were locals and had a home nearby.  They let Ken in on a little secret!  The stream that split the beach just down the way was actually fresh water and could be used as a rinse before leaving the beach. 

We meandered over past the Bocce bunch and followed the stream up into the mangroves.  A freshwater rinse would be nice before we boarded the bus for home!

Somebody tasted the water and pronounced that it was indeed FRESH!
Carrie forging ahead!

The stream seemed to disappear into the mangrove jungle
But then it opened up into an inland pool.  
We followed the stream back up the bank until we found a deeper pool surrounded by jungle.  There were several birds disturbed by our unexpected and unwelcome presence, but we were on a mission.  The water looked a little brownish, stained by tannins from the vegetation, but it didn't smell - much - so we took a dip.

Looking back toward the beach

Bruce was ALL IN!

C-Dock represents on La Sagesse Beach!
I can't adequately express to you the joy it brings me to share these wonders with friends.  It's almost like I created this world for them and just want to spread the good fortune to all!  Living here in Grenada has given me a strange but comfortable proprietary feeling that I just love. 

Getting this outing together gave me a little bit of anxiety... would they like what I have planned?  Would everyone have fun?  Would they feel that it was a good value?  As our day came to a close, it became obvious that everyone DID have a good time, and so my anxiety relaxed and pride took its place. 

It's over.  Time to load up and go home.
Not pride at what I had done to arrange for the day, but pride that my new home - AND CHICO - had shown themselves well for my new friends. 

What a great day with good people!  I can't wait to get out again and see more of this beautiful island and her gentle people.  Welcome to my island!